“It does not make sense to hire chess players and then treat them like chess pieces” (Anon)

I was always taught to treat the cleaner like I treat the managing director/CEO – i.e., with dignity and respect. This should be true of how we treat people from every level in the organisation, particularly those that report in to you. Your team members aren’t pawns in a chess game – they need to be treated as chess players: with minds to think, with logic to make good decisions and with ability to work out winning processes. When we treat colleagues (even those at lower levels) as “strategic partners” in the business, we enhance self-esteem, stimulate and inspire creativity and loyalty and solicit discretionary effort.

The best people always suffer the worst from poor leadership. When the environment is toxic, when employees are overlooked or even discounted in terms of effort, ideas and ability and when there is no engagement, they start looking for other opportunities elsewhere. Particularly in highly technical operations, there is a tendency to discount human interaction as a complicating factor, rather than an asset. Wayne Turmel, co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute, remembers asking a very good programmer why she kept refusing chances to go into a leadership position – she answered: “Because code does what you tell it to do the first time and you don’t have to ask how the kids are”! Turmel notes further: “It’s not that we are bad people. It’s just that in task-heavy situations like project management, we tend to focus on the tasks – the chess moves. We get measured on milestones met, not laughs per meeting. Social interaction at meetings is dismissed as “off-topic” or “wasted time”. Laser focus on the work is regarded as the highest compliment and attempts at friendly chatter are often viewed with suspicion (that the person isn’t working as hard as you are)”

A lack of recognition of the humanness and skills of our team members results in the following:

  • People not taking the initiative and waiting on the manager for decision-making
  • People doing exactly what is expected of them and no more. Discretionary effort (going the extra mile) is not offered
  • Turnover is high and you end up bringing new people up to speed constantly, in the process hindering productivity and efficiency and dowsing morale
  • Team members don’t reach out to one another, nor do they collaborate with other teams
  • Work gets done, maybe even well, but it’s not a lot of fun

When leaders treat employees with dignity and respect, they get the very best of staff “humanness” in return. Treating employees with dignity and respect involves the following:

  • Engage frequently and about everything. Chat about the trivial on occasions, but also chat with the team members on an emotionally profound level too.
  • Provide abundant doses of relevant pieces of information – employees need this information to be able to predict the near future and plan adequately.
  • Demonstrate that you care by removing barriers and providing good resources/equipment.
  • Link their respective jobs and tasks to the mission and strategy of the organisation, showing them that their work is meaningful.
  • Be firm on performance expectations, but be compassionate regarding the human condition.
  • Be fair – consistent and values-driven.
  • Recognise discretionary effort, great work and achievements. Reward appropriately.

Treat staff with dignity and respect. Be present physically and emotionally and engage with them frequently. Never do their work for them – get them to think, plan and perform their tasks. They are intelligent, creative and skilful – supply sufficient and relevant doses of information and they will find efficient and effective ways to win. They are chess players, not chess pieces.

Free To Grow offers an Engaging Leadership workshop to assist leaders with connecting to their employees (www.freetogrow.com)

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